‘As an immigrant, family photos are elegies to a lost world’—Sarah Lubala in conversation with Makhosazana Xaba

This is the third in a series of long-form interviews by Patron Makhosazana Xaba to be hosted on The JRB, which will focus on contemporary collections by Black women and non-binary poets. The first, with Maneo Refiloe Mohale, can be found here, and the second, with Katleho Kano Shoro, here. In opening up a space for wide-ranging, erudite and graceful conversations, Xaba aims to correct the misdeeds of the past by engaging black women and non-binary poets seriously on their ideas and on their work.

Two previous long-form interviews, with Mthunzikazi A Mbungwana on her isiXhosa volume Unam Wena, and with Athambile Masola on her debut collection Ilifa, were published in New Coin last year.

Makhosazana Xaba (MX): Congratulations on your debut poetry collection, A History of Disappearance! In your Acknowledgements you write about how long it took to put the book together and how supportive Allan Kolski Horwitz at Botsotso Publishing was. I often find that writers do not share much about their editors and publishers. Please tell us about your experiences of working with Horwitz over the years, what led you to use these words ‘the patience and long years of support of its editor’.

Sarah Lubala (SL): Thank you so much! Allan is a big reason why this book exists. It all started when I submitted three poems to a local online literary magazine. I was a third year at UCKAR (University Currently Known as Rhodes) and it was my first foray into online publishing. Allan commented on one of my poems and we got into contact from there. He loved my work and asked if I could send him more. At the time, I didn’t have any more, but he was patient. He was willing to wait for me to write. Well, he waited for five years. It took that long. I kept thinking he’d eventually get sick of waiting, but he never did. He seemed to have an unshakeable faith in my potential. He’d email me every couple of months to check in and see how I was progressing. He didn’t micromanage the process at all. He’d offer feedback on the poems, but trusted my voice enough to not interfere. I had complete creative control and support which I appreciated. 

MX: The title of your collection may evoke in the minds of readers of South African poetry Gabeba Baderoon’s The History of Intimacy. I imagine you and Horwitz thought long and hard about the title. What did it take and mean for the two of you to agree on a title that is so close to another? Did you even discuss that? What was your process?

SL: Oddly enough, we never discussed The History of Intimacy, though we are both familiar with Baderoon’s work. The title was inspired by the titular poem, ‘A History of Disappearance’, which we felt captured the central theme of the collection—disappearances of all kinds, across time and geographies.

MX: And now that cover! How evocative. How spooky. How historical. How fitting. While covers have made me smile, wonder, meditate on the art and appropriateness—and more—this cover gives me chills. It sent me googling Julien Harneis. And it set me up for reading about horror and pain simultaneously, my brain was bringing to the fore the horror stories of Congo that I read long ago. Please share the process that led to choosing this cover.

SL: The designer I worked with through Botsotso had an entirely different cover in mind, something more abstract, but it didn’t feel like the right fit. Allan suggested including photographs in the collection to flesh out the slim book. I looked through personal family photo albums and public archives and photo sharing websites. I discovered Julien Harneis while browsing Flickr. He works with Unicef and has travelled widely through the DRC, especially through the eastern part of the country, which has been embroiled in violent conflict for decades. I wanted to use images that spoke to that conflict, and to the other complicated violences visited upon the country. 

The cover image is a crumbling portrait of the infamous kleptocrat Mobutu Sese Seko. I was immediately struck by it. It recalls Shelley’s poem ‘Ozymandias’, about how those who are powerful at one time believe their gilded reputation will endure forever, and the inevitable decline of their pretensions to greatness. His withering visage prompts the viewer to reflect, from a postcolonial perspective, on the complicated yet transient nature of political power in post-independent Africa. Looking at the image, I imagined the end of Mobutu’s reign as proportional to the decay of his portrait—gradual and cataclysmic. 

MX: Please write an ekphrastic poem based on this cover image.


The Dictator’s Vanishing Portrait

‘Mobutu does not think he is God.’—Mobutu Sese Seko

only just below the angels
only God’s first choice
blind but all seeing
knower of all that has been done
trimmed but not abandoned
fallen but anointed
the leopard stands ready
to crow,
to crown,
to cry,
to crumble.

MX: I am assuming that the family photograph that opens the book is that of your family. Please tell us where you are in that image, and how old you were. Do you know the story behind this photograph? Who are the other people in the photograph? Why did you choose it, for the book? 

SL: The original photograph belongs to my maternal grandparents and captures them, my mother, my aunt and three uncles. I chose it because it is one of only two photographs I have ever seen of my mom before she was my mom. My parents lost many of their photographs in the rush to escape the DRC some twenty years ago. I’ve always reflected on the magnitude of that loss, not just for them, but for me and my siblings. It was painful to be deprived of our personal history in this way. It is one of the many disappearances I explore in the book. My grandmother mailed this photograph to my mother a couple of years ago. When I first saw it, I was confused. I thought my mother was me. I couldn’t figure out when this picture of me had been taken. It took me a while to realise I was looking at my nine-year-old mother. I looked exactly like her at that age. All my life, I’ve been told that I look like her, but in that moment, I understood that I was her living image. I felt keenly connected to her, and in turn to my grandfather (she gets her looks from him) and my great-grandmother (from whom my grandfather gets his looks). It’s like Susan Sontag says, family photographs are ‘ghostly traces … the token presence of the dispersed relatives’. As an immigrant, family photos have played a significant role in how I understand myself, my identity and my homeland. They are elegies to a lost world. 

MX: In the interest of avoiding another form of disappearance, please give us the names of the people in the photograph, as well as their relationship to you. I ask for this trusting that it does not put anyone at risk. If it does then you don’t have to name them. 

SL: The adults in the photo are my grandfather, Théophile Sabangu, and my grandmother, Nikomba Muanda Madeline. My uncle Cyril is the tallest of the boys, and my mother, Ida, is the girl with her eyes closed. Resting against her is my uncle Guy, whose hand is on the arm of my aunt, Irene. The boy standing behind my aunt, wearing the white shirt under his button up, is my uncle, Paulin.

MX: You were shortlisted twice for the Gerald Kraak Prize, once for the Brittle Paper Award for Poetry and longlisted for the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Award. Please write a poem that focuses on the waiting period before the announcement of the winner of a prize is announced.


7 ways to burn or a week of waiting

1. monday
with the curling iron
(behind the ear)

2. tuesday
write poems
no one need ever see

3. wednesday
bury them
the way they did your grandfather
bloated and heaving
at Kakamoeka

4. thursday
dream you’ve won

5. friday
renounce it

6. saturday
give interpretations
offerings made by fire

7. sunday
groan what cannot be

MX: I love poetry’s way with humour, this poem made me laugh so much. Congratulations on winning the 2023 National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences Award. How did that make you feel? And how has your community-at-large responded to this achievement?

SL: Thank you so much! I was so surprised. I didn’t expect to win, certainly not against the brilliant and long-established writers in the poetry category. When I was announced as the winner, I almost choked on what I was eating. My husband burst out laughing. Despite his arguments to the contrary, I’d told him that there was no way I’d win. I was and am so humbled. My community has been wonderfully supportive. My friends claim that they always knew I’d win, which I don’t believe, but I appreciate their faith in me. 

MX: I was struck by the questions that feature in so many of your poems. Are you the Queen of Questions? I counted thirty-four questions in the book of thirty-seven poems, with seven in ‘An Inheritance’, the highest number of all the poems. These questions achieve different results while simultaneously deepening the meaning and impact of each poem. Even the mundane-sounding questions acquire a deeper meaning as the poem progresses. I enjoyed encountering them, often unexpectedly. Someone could write a whole essay on these questions. I will limit myself to four questions on your questions-drenched poetry.

SL: I love that moniker, ‘the Queen of Questions’. I’ve always approached writing as an exploratory exercise—when I have questions, I take them to the page. 

MX: In ‘Boy with the Flying Cheekbones’, there are just two questions, in the sixth of the nine stanzas. The questions sound mundane, yet they heighten the power of the insights in the lines that follow:

Dear Théophile
Where are you now?
Where will this find you?
How do I tell you your hands were scripture
in full bloom,
each finger a slender verse.
I knew nothing of such kindness,
mercy me.

In this poem, which is throbbing agony, pulsing memory and more, Théophile intervenes with hands that ‘were scripture … each finger a slender verse’ and we hear gratitude from the speaker. The two questions serve to introduce us to this mediator, this lovable human with ‘flying cheekbones’. The poem weaves emotions intricately through tangible images and appetite-inducing edibles: sugar, bread, mangoes, okra soup and ginger beer. This piece is so accomplished it makes me want to say to you what the speaker says to Théophile in the final stanza:

you bury me.

Do you have a question for me?

SL: That may be the most generous compliment I’ve ever received as a writer. Thank you so much. ‘Boy with the Flying Cheekbones’ was inspired by someone I love dearly so it means so much to have it understood this way. 

My question for you: What draws you to poetry?

MX: My childhood was packed with poetry. Our parents always insisted that we do not just say: ‘Ngiyabonga’ or ‘Thank you’. We had to say ‘Ngiyabonga’ and then say out loud the long list of izithakazelo. So it would be: ‘Ngiyabonga Mama, Ndabezitha, wena kasoNtshikazi Gumbi lamagwala!’ and for our father it would be ‘Nonkosi, Shwabade, Malobusohlanga, wena owahlephula isinkwa sebandla, Wen’othemba ukuphana kunokuncishana, Mazalakubusa, Nonkosi omuhle ngisho nonyawo lwakhe, olufana nezihlabathi zolwandle.’ In Natal, as KwaZulu-Natal was called then, one way of showing someone respect, telling them you see them, was addressing them by their zithakazelo. So, this way we learned and shared family histories through the incredible language of izithakazelo. 

When I started school and became fascinated by languages, I realised just how intensely poetic izithakazelo are. For many years through my primary school education I was selected to represent the class and recite poetry in isiZulu, English and Afrikaans in front of the inspectors when they came to our school at the end of the year. This experience taught me that poetry can be about anything and everything: animals and insects, nature and plants, politics, queens and kings, family history and, yes, love. I grew up during the years of greeting cards and these showed me that poetry is also motivational, inspirational and philosophical. I enjoyed it all. This made me understand that poetry is not just about life, it is life. Our father loved music, he taught it and conducted a school choir. When I learned the words of some of the songs he sang and conducted I wondered why they were not called poetry. To this day, I have copies of some of the poetry collections I enjoyed in high school, like Inzululwane by JC Dlamini.

When I returned home from boarding school I would teach my younger siblings the poems I had learned. The sister who comes after me, Vie, reminded me of this recently, just how much I insisted on teaching them. Our youngest sister, Zed, created her own zithakazelo, just for her, the individual, when she was still a child. She would entertain us by reciting her own praises with pomp and ceremony. That is how commonplace poetry was in our family. Decades later, we still remind Zed of this. In high school, as my classmates were copying and writing song lyrics in their notebooks, I was looking for poems to copy and read to myself.

As a young adult participating in anti-apartheid activism, I witnessed the power of poetry in activism and politics. Later I used poetry in many training workshops I facilitated in the nineteen-nineties. Fast forward to the year two-thousand when I am now part of a writing group. We met once a month, each brought whatever we had written and we read and discussed it. I only ever brought prose to the group and each time they would tell me ‘it’s poetry’ or ‘it’s very poetic’. Vossie Goosen actually used to insert slashes throughout my prose and say: ‘See, this is a poem.’ She would point out where the one stanza ends and the next begins. It was that experience that made me start writing my own poetry. The writing group encouraged me to start submitting my poetry and I did.

I feel as if I was born into poetry and then it became an integral part of my life as a thing of beauty and wonder, to honour and enjoy, as well as a utility; but I never thought I would create it, until the writing group handed me a mirror. 

And on to my next question to you. In the poem ‘Questions You Are Likely To Hear In An Asylum Interview’—the only poem that has the word ‘question’ in the title—each of the four single-line questions is followed by a full-on stanza:

Where have you come from?

Who harmed you or put you in fear of harm?

Why did they harm you?

Do you fear returning to your home country?

The stanzas vary in their focus as they ‘answer’ the questions in the most creative ways, pulling the reader’s imagination in different, often surprising, directions—for instance, in that line in the last stanza: ‘Freedom is your heart in the emptiness of night.’ There was a deep-seated agency that I heard as I read through these seemingly wild ‘answers’ from the speaker in this poem. What inspired this way of writing a poem and what was your writing process?

SL: I wrote this poem in response to the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ and the wave of societal violence it triggered. I was interested in how that violence lands on women’s bodies. I wanted to explore the poetics of violence against female immigrants. I use the term poetics here to mean how instances of gendered violence cannot be entirely understood by reference to the sociopolitical or material but have to be appreciated for the ways in which they are also cultural and performative expressions.

The questions in the poem are excerpts from an asylum interview questionnaire. I remember reading them and being struck by their impossibility. The need for immigrants to perform credibility is cruel. The standard for credibility cuts against the idea of protecting people who most qualify for relief. Past trauma can, and often does, impact an asylum seeker’s testimony. Still, they are confronted with questions that can’t even begin to bear the weight of their lived experiences.

MX: ‘How does fire die?’ is the only question in the poem ‘Fever’. How does fire die? I heard this question repeatedly in my head and it took me to philosophy, history, science, the recent fires in buildings in South Africa. The speaker answers this question with the simple:

We reach the end,
and cry out for the beginning.

The two lines that follow the question took my eyes back to the second stanza:

The tongue is also fire:
through the year’s slow teeth
all the days of my life speak against me.
See fire eat fire.
See it set the whole course of life on fire.
and itself set on fire by hell.

I recognise the fire of a fever as well as the fervour of the fire, but I would like to invite you to say more about this stanza, as if you were talking to a student.

SL: The poem is an exploration of fever symptoms. As the main symptom of a fever is increased body temperature, heat is the main focus of the fever metaphors in the poem. In the first stanza, the fever as fire metaphor is used to highlight the hallucinatory quality of a fever. The speaker is experiencing a fever dream. Fever dreams are vivid, often bizarre, negative and emotionally intense. The speaker is reliving traumatic events in their dreams and the fire imagery and metaphors are used to highlight the intensity of their emotions.

MX: In the poem ‘On the Xenophobic Attacks in Johannesburg’ I was reminded of the various histories I have read on how rope and fire have been used as tools of capture, domination, punishment, torture, violence and war. The histories of how whole villages in Africa were set on fire after being plundered by colonialists, how in America black people were hung in trees and killed—inspiring among others a poem that later became the song ‘Strange Fruit’, popularised by Billie Holiday’s rendition. In South Africa the recent history of burning people after putting tyres around their necks is also impossible to forget. The second stanza invokes the expansiveness of this history in just six words. The question interrogates our humanity and invites self-reflection:

Who prayed for rope
and fire?

What is your response to my summary of this poem?

SL: That is a brilliant summary. That’s exactly right. The rope is an overt symbol of slavery, colonialism, violence and control.

MX: Let’s return to fire. The word ‘fire’ shows up, often unexpectedly, in your other poems: ‘A List of Hauntings’; ‘Self Portrait with Pain’; ‘The Baker’s Wife’; ‘Confession is Not Betrayal’ and ‘Early Morning Rain’. And even when the word wasn’t there, I saw the flames rise as I read the words ‘smoke’ and ‘ash’ shored up in other poems. What does fire really mean to you?

SL: It means survival, spiritual purification, physical pain, destruction, violence, desire, lust, and more. 

MX: It is interesting how the naming of towns, cities, rivers and so on locate and thus make visible the very ‘disappearance’ the book is about: Bali, Braamfontein, Cape Town, Congo, Kananga, Johannesburg, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Maluku, Montreal, Nakala, Nigeria, Okapi, Old Quebec, Pittsburgh, Sheol, Trieste, Walungu, the Ubangi River. The poems carry this disappearance effectively, a worldly trip of disappearance. Please list the ways of disappearing that this collection is about.

SL: 1. There is the disappearance of indigenous words from use and circulation as a result of colonialism. Even using English in this book gestures to the loss of the mother tongue and highlights the pain of mastering a language that is etymologically hostile to African subjects. 

2. There is the disappearance occasioned by forced migration, when you are a subject in exile and ‘doubly dislocated’, both ‘presently’ and historically, given your colonial past. There is a disappearance of roots and kinship. The book is about the difficult process of departure, deterritorialisation and the confusion that follows.

3. There is the disappearance that occurs when you are a postcolonial subject—an incalculable object that is quite literally difficult to place. As I articulate in my biography, you belong ‘here, there, everywhere and nowhere’ simultaneously. 

4. There is the disappearance of women through violent means. Through domestic abuse, gender-based violence and sexual assault. This happens in the literal sense, when women are murdered, but there is also a disappearance that happens at a linguistic level. ​Acts of violence against female bodies function as obsessive displays of agency that permit one person’s body to be translated into another person’s voice. Those who commit such violence seek to render the one, the victim’s body, emphatically and crushingly present by debasing it, while simultaneously rendering the other, the victim’s voice, absent through the same means. The violation is not merely physical, but also occurs through the erasure of the victim’s narrative by the imposition of another.

5. There is the disappearance or invisibility of chronic pain and mental illness. Beyond physical challenges, people with invisible illnesses also shoulder unique emotional baggage. Every day brings difficult decisions about whether or when to disclose your condition and how to deal with possibly mixed reactions. People can’t see your suffering, so they may not understand or help you. I can’t tell you how many medical professionals I’ve encountered who believed I was either exaggerating the severity of my pain or that the issue was ‘in my head’. 

MX: The topic of language is a fascinating one to me. Please translate ‘A History of Disappearance’ into your mother tongue. What is your mother tongue?

SL: If by mother tongue you mean the first language I learned in childhood, then my mother tongue is French (another complicated colonial import). ‘A History of Disappearance’ translates to ‘Une Histoire de Disparition’ in French.

MX: Spring is such a comforting season. ‘Ode to Spring’ opens our eyes, it makes us touch things, marvel and embrace nature. The repetition of two words—’Here is’—as they open each stanza bolster the impact of the poem:

Here is
the first clean bit of mint
quince pear on the windowsill,
the slow aria of vanilla,
the notes so open
you could weave the sweetness in.

This poem reminded me of my teenage self, looking through the window of the bedroom I shared with two sisters, as it rained, dreaming about an unknown future. And then the last stanza:

Here is
the wet grass
the heaven and the earth,
the bright throat of spring
yawning across the sky.

Take us through the process of writing this poem, the choices you made as you showed spring to your reader. How would you describe your relationship to nature?

SL: This poem was inspired by the writings of Mary Oliver, a poet known for her clear and poignant observations and evocative use of the natural world. I wanted to open the reader’s senses to the reality of the world around them. I wanted to give everyday images—the sky, grass, the smell of quince pear—a transcendental and spiritual quality. Ordinary grass becomes ‘the heaven and the earth’ and the sky is ‘the bright throat of Spring’. 

My relationship to nature, and poetry, is founded on ‘the principle of wonder’. In his article ‘A Philosophy of Wonder’, Howard L Parsons writes: ‘Wonder is the spark of excitation leaping across the gap between man and the world.’ This poem is an attempt to capture that spark and represent the moment of wonderment on the page. 

MX: And now, a weird coincidence: as I am reading your response above with my radio on, the host starts interviewing a geologist who is commenting on the earthquake we experienced in Gauteng over the weekend. Please write a poem on:

  1. earthquakes and the wonder they evoke for you. And/Or
  2. your real-life experience of an earthquake, if you have one. 


Your Body is Earthquake Country

long starved
writhing like a woman in childbirth
the whole animal of you
lifted from dust
turned from smoke
ripples through the rock
the skeleton sent trembling
bone to its bone
you are the ache
at the centre of the world

MX: The poems on illness and pain—’My Tears Have Been My Bread’, ‘Dispatch from Ward C’ to mention just these two—are so intimate, so private, yet so universal. How does poetry help you in dealing with illness and physical pain?

SL: In her book The Body In Pain, Elaine Scarry writes that ‘intense pain is world-destroying’. The overwhelming fact of your suffering makes neutral and invisible the significance of the world to which the pain refers. Pain operates as a kind of internal exile, it makes you a stranger to yourself. Poetry returns me to myself. When a pain flare is especially bad and I can’t move, poetry is readily accessible because it can be recalled in its full presence in my mind or heard when recited from memory. Writing and reading poetry is, in large part, an invitation to pay attention to the world around you, and that is a useful practice when you’re trying to think of anything but the pain. Poetry brings the materiality of the world back into my line of sight. 

MX: Thank you for introducing me to Elaine Scarry. I have started reading her and her writing. This leads me to a follow-up question I want to introduce with a quote from her interview with Brad Evans: ‘Some studies of suffering are historically specific; others are transcultural; both kinds of studies are needed; my own approach in The Body in Pain was transcultural.’ You end ‘My Tears Have Been My Bread’ with the words: ‘This teacup/ is the whole world.’ This end suggests to me that your approach to A History of Disappearance is transcultural. Would you agree?

SL: Absolutely. I think A History of Disappearance explores numerous instances of pain and violence across various geographical locations and different historical eras to offer a holistic understanding of the subject.

MX: The poems in this collection are interspersed with a varying range of photographs that speak to the theme of disappearance. I was struck by the image of the hand and pointed finger on page 22 as I read ‘The Dregs of Love’, the poem on page 21. And then the image made total sense as I read the second stanza:

What can be done with this handful of leavings?

What is your relationship to Julien Harneis? What was the process of choosing these photographs for this collection? How did you and or Horwitz arrive at Harneis’s work?

SL: As I mentioned earlier, I discovered Julien Harneis while browsing Flickr. I found his photos so arresting and emotionally charged. It’s humanitarian photography—which is a genre that is always in danger of slipping into development porn—so I was careful to choose images that were honest portrayals of difficult situations, but that didn’t exploit the subjects’ conditions. I didn’t want to include the faces of children, and I wanted to include images that gave a more nuanced view of the country. So while there are images that gesture to hardship, there are also images that reveal something of the social life of Congolese people. 

Instead of presenting individuals simply as ‘recipients’ or ‘beneficiaries’—positions that demonstrate passivity and strip away agency—I also wanted to include images that focus on what people are doing. So I included the image of the fishermen on the river and the woman resting against the church. The same technique from humanitarian photography is used, however; the reaction I am looking for is not simply engendering sympathy. Instead, my hope is that the poetry alongside the pictures invites the reader to understand the larger context from which these images emerge, to recognise the subjects in the photos as fully human. The reader is asked to enter into an imaginary dialogue with the scene depicted in the image and to understand marginalisation as an ongoing process that is both structural and experiential, rather than a fixed state of being. 

MX: How involved are you with the poetry community in South Africa? In a conversation with Elijah Bwojji, you spoke about the challenge of feeling at home in South Africa. How have you navigated the poetry landscape? To what extent has it been a welcoming ‘bubble’? What are your views on and experiences within the Johannesburg poetry scene?

SL: I’ve only just begun to engage with the poetry community in South Africa and Johannesburg. The community has been very welcoming. Poets, at least those I’ve met here in South Africa and in Africa more generally, pay attention to what and who exists on the margins. They are incredibly empathetic people, and often activistic in their approach to writing. I feel lucky to be a part of this community. Especially as so many of the poets I’ve connected with are black women.

MX: Please give specific examples of this ‘activistic approach to writing’, I am curious.

SL: What I mean by an activistic approach to writing is the use of writing as a means to advocate for social, political, or environmental change. Activistic writers employ the power of words to raise awareness, challenge injustices and inspire action. Take, for example, Vuyelwa Maluleke—she’s an incredible poet who I have got to know. Her writing explores the sometimes difficult experience of black girlhood and womanhood. Her poetry investigates gendered forms of violence within racialised discourses of power. Similarly, the poet Maneo Mohale, who has become a dear friend, engages with the topics of race, media, queerness, survivorship, language and history in their work (please note that Maneo is non-binary). 

MX: Another follow-up question on black women poets. Have these connections been intentional on your part and/or their part or are they coincidental and/or spontaneous? And, how different are your connections to women from those you have with men? 

SL: The connections began spontaneously and have become more intentional. Many of the black women poets I’ve connected with were initially friends of friends or acquaintances on social media. I’ve made an effort to connect, engage and build deeper connections with them. I’m grateful that they have reciprocated.

My connection with male poets has been just as generative. I count poets like Chisom Okafor and Loic Ekinga as talented members of the community of African poets I have had the privilege to connect with.

MX: I read reviews of your collection by Wesley Macheso and Alesia Alexander and two interviews, one with Adhiambo E Magak and another posted by AfroWomenPoetry. All of these were published in 2022, the year of the release of the book, a very impressive reception in my view. What can you say about the public’s reception of your book?

SL: The writing process is solitary so it’s easy to forget that your work will be read by anyone other than you. I didn’t know what to expect when the book was released, but the reception has been incredibly positive, which has been the most affirming surprise. After every reading I’ve had at least one audience member come up to me and ask me to keep writing, which has been deeply touching.

MX: The last two stanzas in the collection, from the poem ‘Desertion’, read as follows:

To love is to confess the need of it,
and I do,
but I cannot be my mother,
faithful to her torturer,
begging for a crust of bread.

We don’t belong to each other.
I belong to the alphabet of everything,
to the valley of vowels,
to myself.

First, thank you for making the point that needs to be made more and more, about how women are faithful to their tortures. There is an understandable need to not ‘blame the victim’, which often silences even the naming before going into the psychological analysis of the abuse. Second, ‘we don’t belong to each other’—I so agree. Third, the idea of belonging to ‘the alphabet of everything, to the valley of vowels’ is exquisitely poetic, deep with meaning, fulfilling to the reading palate and wide open to all senses: it makes me want to rest my questioning. So, I end here, with the suggestion that you ask one question you wish I had asked and then answer it.

SL: Truthfully, your interview has been so thorough and imaginative that I can’t think of a question I wished you’d asked. Thank you for engaging with the book with such enthusiasm and insight.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.Required fields are marked *